Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, suffered extensive damage Friday from a large fire that burned for more than three hours.
Fortunately, there were no reports of injuries among the dozens of firefighters who battled the blaze or the 30 team employees who were at the ballpark when the fire began. The popular stadium, however, didn’t fare as well. Plainfield Township Fire Chief David Peterson told WOOD-TV that “everything from the about home plate down the first base side is pretty much destroyed.”
The fire reportedly started in one of the skybox suites. More from WOOD-TV:
Plainfield Fire Chief Dave Peterson said the fire started when a work crew was using a heater in a suite. The heater started a small fire, but the work crew thought they put the small fire out. The work crew left the area after they thought the fire was out; they returned to the area and found the whole place up in flames.
“It did start in one of the suites, spread into the attic area. Once it gets into the attic it tends to move pretty fast because it has a lot of oxygen and there aren’t a lot of fire breaks,” Plainfield Fire Chief Dave Peterson said.
The sprinkler system failed to control the spread of the flames and by the time firefighters arrived, the fire was racing from west to east through the suites and concession area.
Smoke from the fire could be seen in downtown Grand Rapids — the ballpark is located in nearby Comstock Park — and reportedly was spotted 14 miles away at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
According to MiLB.com’s story about the fire, approximately 40 percent of the stadium was destroyed. That includes 11 or 12 luxury suites and the clubhouse on the first-base side of the park.
Firefighters were able to stop the flames from spreading into the center of the stadium, which likely saved the press box and front offices from further damage. [Whitecaps Chief Financial Officer Denny] Baxter said those areas may have sustained water damage.
“Everything on the first-base side — the suite level, concourse, clubhouse, some storage areas, things of that nature — they’re all going to have to be replaced,” Baxter said. “Beyond that, I don’t know. We have not been given permission to go in and assess the damage in the office. The control room — that controls our audio and video — I believe that’s been severely damaged, if not, could be totally gone. If anybody looks, the first-base side is gone.”
Here is what the affected area of the ballpark looked like in 2011:
The next photo is by MLive photographer Cory Morse. Check out his gallery of photos from the fire here.
During a press conference held at the ballpark, Baxter vowed that the stadium will be open and ready to host the team’s scheduled home opener on April 8. It may not be completely rebuilt by then, but the field wasn’t affected by the fire and can still be used for games.
“We’re going to survive this and come out of this. I’d like to believe, if we rebuild it, they will come,” Baxter said.
Fifth Third Ballpark is scheduled to host the 2014 Midwest League All-Star Game on June 17.